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The first Eskimo newspaper

Nalinginarnik tusaruminasassunik unikat. Edited by Rasmus Bertelsen and Lars Moller.
Godthab [i. e. Nuuk], Greenland, 1861-1910.

Quarto, 34 volumes containing 504 issues (a complete run of the first 50 years), generally 8pp. per issue, contained in 3 folding cloth clamshell boxes with leather labels. A remarkable set of one of the earliest illustrated newspapers, and the first with color illustrations! Contains 324 total lithographs on 249 sheets, 21 of which are folding, 8 double-page, 16 of which are hand-colored and another 24 printed in color, plus 2 tinted. There are 20 photomechanical illustrations (beginning with 20th century issues), and 31 woodcuts throughout. All issues in original plain or printed wrappers; one volume bound in orig. cloth; except for a few stains a very fresh copy, largely unopened.

An extraordinary Arctic survival in a fine state of preservation. Of particular interest are the four color lithographs of the American Indian (redrawn, apparently after Catlin); the Monitor and the Merrimac, gold-mining in Australia, as well as a number of illustrations of whale ships, seal and polar bear hunting, Arctic landscapes, a bull-fight, and a stunning double-page color lithograph of ships in the harbor at Godthab.

The unique culture of Greenland was in severe crisis in 1853 when Dr. H. J. Rink first settled in Greenland. The meeting with European culture had proved a highly traumatic experience for native Greenlanders and to a great extent they had become totally dependent upon the Europeans. To avoid losing a sense of identity, Rink encouraged the Greenlanders to have equal responsibility for developing their own cultural awareness; so together with Samuel Kleinschmidt and E. Janssen, Rink undertook publication of the first Greenlandic newspaper. From 1861-74 Atuagagdliutt was edited by a native Greenlander, Rasmus Bertelsen; Bertelsen was followed as editor by another Greenlander, Lars Moller (1874-1921), who was to continue at the post until 1921 and who had also been the newspaper’s printer from the outset. Furthermore, Moller, together with the famous Greenlandic artist, Aron of Kangeq, created the magnificent lithographs and woodcuts.

Bringing the Greenlanders into contact with the rest of the world, together with summarized versions of classical literature, and stories from Greenland mythology, tales of hunters’ adventures, stories, official decrees, and current events of importance to the natives, this newspaper was extremely popular from the start—at least in Greenland, as the publication made no great impact at the time in Denmark or elsewhere. Today, however, it is clearly seen as a remarkable achievement. The conditions under which the paper was printed were extremely primitive, and climatic conditions often caused great problems—actual printing required dampened paper, but in Greenland’s climate the paper often froze. The translation of texts from Danish to Greenlandic caused great problems for the translator as many words which describe modern civilized life did not exist in Greenlandic. Thus the translator had to invent a new word. Atuagagdliutit, which means "distributed reading matter" or "free newspaper."

The publication was not only for adult readers. Many of the texts and illustrations apply to children and young readers as well. Together with Pokbogen (1859) and Gronlandske Folkesagn (1859-63), Atuagagdliutit gave the Greenlanders the first opportunity to become acquainted with literature printed in Greenland and in their own language. Atuagagdliutit was their first acquaintance with world literature, for adults and children. Robinson Crusoe by Defoe is included, as are stories by Hans Christian Andersen, the legend of Robin Hood, fairy tales, tales of the Arabian Nights, all intermixed with such articles as that on Peary’s journey to the North Pole in 1909. Furthermore, the newspaper had immense educational influence since it was the Greenland children’s first chance to study world history, ethnography, accounts of journeys, and natural history, among other subjects.

H. J. Rink (1819-93), the publisher of Atuagagdliutit, was a Danish geographer. In 1845 he went with the corvette Galathea on her scientific circumnavigation of the globe and in 1848 he went on his first mineralogical journey to Greenland where he spent four years mapping out large parts of the country. From 1853 he functioned as factor in Greenland and later as Royal Inspector of South Greenland. Deeply interested in the Eskimos, Rink wrote several works on the subject. For health reasons he had to return to Denmark in 1868. Since the time of Hans Egede, no one has had such immense value for the preservation of Greenlandic culture as Rink.

The newspaper was a monthly publication but was only distributed once a year to the settlements in Greenland. Only 200 examples were printed in its first year and only very few have survived. The newspapers were read so much that they were practically falling apart, the illustrations were often torn out and used as decoration, and text pages were frequently used as plugs in muzzle loading guns. Except for four or five complete sets held by the public authorities in Denmark and Greenland, we know of only one more complete set, now in a private collection. In the U. S. 17 institutions hold at least some of the issues of Atuagagdliutit, (based on searches in RLIN, OCLC, NUC and the Union List of Serials), but none, as far as we have been able to determine, with the possible exception of that at the Newberry Library, is complete with all the illustrations intact, as here. Pilling, Eskimo, p. 6 and 40-1; Rink, Danish Greenland, pp. 213-14.